Taking Responsibility: AAG Acts on Climate Change

Image of the word ACT spray-painted on cement by Mick Haupt for Unsplash
Image by Mick Haupt for Unsplash

Photo of Gary Langham

In late 2021, AAG and the Climate Action Task Force asked members to weigh in on our role in responding to climate change. An overwhelming majority — 93 percent! — of responding members called upon us to be a leader on climate change, not only in our public actions but also in every aspect of our operations. Your responses provided us with a mandate for transforming our organization’s policies and practice, as well as helping us ground-truth our efforts so far. We have made tremendous progress in just one year. Let me share the good news.

Bar chart taken from an AAG survey on climate showing actions members would like to see AAG take, the top of which is taking a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.
This bar chart depicts results from a survey of AAG members. Among the 93% who urged AAG to take leadership on climate change, the top suggestion was that AAG take a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.


AAG’s Commitment to Climate Action: Policy and Advocacy

AAG’s increased engagement with policy issues has centered our attention to climate change. Most recently we acted on our unequivocal stance on the climate crisis by mobilizing our membership in support of the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage. In the past three years, we have also taken action to protect access to science, participated in COP26 and the upcoming COP27, and frequently participated in the community of scientists calling for action on the climate crisis, such as the joint statement by International Geographical Societies on the Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies.

AAG’s recent investments in new software and staffing will also help us scale our climate action policy work for maximum effectiveness and help geographers’ voices be heard on the issue of climate change during 2023 and beyond.

Climate-Forward Investments: Divestment from Fossil Fuel

Next to policy and advocacy leadership, divestment was the single most important issue to 3 out of 4 members who responded to AAG’s questionnaire. Over the past three years, this issue was a common topic of discussion, but it seemed impossible to maintain a broad set of indexed funds while meeting the goal. New options became available this year as global interest in ESG investing grows. I am pleased to announce that AAG has now fully divested from fossil fuel holdings and retargeted them to socially just and environmentally friendly options. AAG is now 100% free of fossil-fuel investments.

Smaller Carbon Footprint for Meetings

Despite—or at times because of—the paradigm shift caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, AAG has made many changes over the last three years to address our role in creating less carbon-intensive meetings. From 2020 until now, AAG has renewed its approaches not only to the annual meeting, but to all of our convening activities.

Back in 2019, when AAG responded to member calls for renewed commitment to this issue by forming a Climate Task Force, we first addressed the need to rethink the annual meeting for significantly reduced CO2 emissions. That early work toward this goal in 2019 prepared us for the unexpected challenges of COVID-19. AAG now has adopted a method to estimate carbon emissions from meeting participation, which I summarized in this column last year, and which is described further in our report. We adopted a peer-reviewed method, based on a study of travel patterns to the American Geophysical Union Fall 2019 Meeting, coauthored by AAG member Debbie Hopkins. This method enables AAG to not only estimate past and future emissions to increase transparency, but also to determine whether we are meeting the stated goals of the member petition in 2019. The goal is to reduce emissions from the annual meeting by 45% by 2030 and by 100% by 2050.

Introducing virtual and hybrid options will allow each member to determine how best to participate in future AAG meetings. We are working to make these options available while keeping costs as low as possible. AAG is also experimenting with watch parties and so-called nodes to create additional options for participation. This approach reflects our commitment to ensure that however the meeting is experienced, it is a rich and rewarding one.

Changing how AAG convenes to address the carbon emissions burden of conventional meetings has not always been easy, but it has provided new benefits we did not anticipate, in terms of broader access to events, new modalities for presenting and networking, and less pressure on hosting communities. We continue to learn, innovate, and enhance our offerings in keeping with our commitment to address climate change.

Lower-Carbon Operations and Office Space

Nearly 60 percent of respondents to our questionnaire signaled the importance of increasing the energy efficiency of AAG’s headquarters and operations. In November, AAG will move to a new, LEED-Gold building that provides significant efficiencies over our former headquarters. We are also now a fully hybrid office, promoting remote work and telecommuting for all our staff.


AAG’s work on climate action will never be fully done, nor should it be. There will always be room for improvement and new opportunities to show up for our planet. Yet we have already made remarkable progress. We continue to be responsive and adaptable — not only to the demands of climate change, but also to our members’ ideas, insights, and priorities for the Association. We look forward with excitement to our first hybrid annual meeting, in Denver March 23-27 — another first in our work to provide high-quality programming that also reduces our carbon emissions and energy use. I thank the Climate Action Task Force members for their partnership on this critical issue.

Please continue to send your suggestions for AAG’s approach to addressing climate change to HelloWorld@aag.org.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0120

Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.